By Andrew Wind Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa.
Amanda Freet has used her entrepreneurial spirit to tap into people's passions.
She saw a need in the Cedar Valley for a gym focused on competitive cheerleading and started TNT Cheer last fall. The gym now offers competitive cheer, recreational cheer, tumbling, dance and conditioning. Its cheer teams consisting of children ages 4 to 18 travel the Midwest for competitions.
Membership during the past year has grown from 30 to more than 150 athletes. The gym recently moved from Waterloo to a 7,000-square-foot Cedar Falls facility at 6023 Chancellor Drive, which is more than twice the size of the original location.
The Waterloo woman said her 10-year-old daughter, Kendahl, is "very passionate about cheerleading." She got involved in the sport competitively through a local trampoline and tumbling gym. But there was little opportunity for growth of the program.
"In that process, a couple coaches and I attended a meeting in Chicago for the governing body of All Star Cheerleading," Freet recalled. On the drive home, they talked about "trying to find a way to support the coaches' passion" -- as well as the passion of their students. Freet took the lead by founding TNT Cheer.
Coaches lead classes there Monday through Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons and evenings. While Freet oversees operations of the business, she does so without pay. In her daytime job, she works as a project administrator for Veridian Credit Union. Much of her work on behalf of TNT Cheer happens after hours.
"I do a lot from home at night after the husband and daughter go to bed," Freet said.
While she wants to provide opportunities for her daughter, "some of my motivation comes from my father." Freet's dad, Dan Ramaker, was a John Deere employee laid off during the 1980s downturn in the farm economy. He and her mother, Toni, moved the family to Indiana for a time before returning to the Cedar Valley.
That "instilled in me to never give up and never settle," Freet said. She was inspired "just seeing (her parents) lose about everything and still just get to the point they are today."
Veridian co-worker Anne Britson, a strategic research specialist, nominated Freet for the 20 under 40 honor and praised her efforts to establish the gym, calling her "a role model to young girls and women."
"She has tirelessly built the program to four competitive teams and many recreational classes offering families opportunities to explore the sport," Britson said. "The gym promotes teamwork and is a positive environment for the athletes."
Freet is a presence at TNT Cheer.
"I try to be in the gym two to three days per week," she noted. Her job while there is to "encourage parents, give kids high-fives and make sure they're smiling.
"I need to make sure those little ones are happy," Freet said. "Keeping my parents happy is what led to Bling N Things." That's Sparkly Bling N Things -- a second related business she started in March.
Freet custom screen prints logos and designs on clothing items such as T-shirts, tank tops and sweatshirts that are often sold to cheer team members and the moms, who are their biggest fans. But her apparel -- created with a "very small" screen-printing machine -- sparkle and glimmer as designs are made with glitter and rhinestones.
"Cheer moms like to sparkle," she said. The home-based business is also making in-roads to other fans as Freet reaches out beyond the cheer community. "It's unique and that's why it's doing well right now."
Again, she saw a market for the product and decided to fill the need. But Sparkly Bling N Things also serves as an outlet for Freet.
"My day job at Veridian doesn't allow for much creativity," she said. "This is a way for me to exercise that." Freet has worked at Veridian in a number of capacities since graduating from high school.
"It's been an awesome place to work," she said. Currently, "I coordinate the different projects that are happening throughout the credit union."
Between her work and business ventures, Freet has a lot full days. But she strives to keep her work and businesses from taking over her life. "Never get too busy making a living that you forget to make a life," she said a co-worker once told her.
"It's definitely all about balance," Freet said. "I can't say that I've perfected it. It's a work in progress."